On 14-15 October, the first Annual Forum of the EU Strategy for the Baltic Sea Region took place in connection with the BSSSC-conference in Tallinn, Estonia.
The Forum was established as a means to reach out to different stakeholders on all levels.
Estonian President Toomas Ilves made his view clear in his opening address when underlying that the EU strategy ”is the first initiative of the European Union that has been launched by people who have been directly elected and it is under democratic rules of the citizens of the European Union. Therefore, it can be said that this is the most democratic strategy in the European Union”. Ilves is one of the founding fathers of the strategy who initiated the process from the European Parliament in 2006.
The EU Strategy has come to an impressive start which was confirmed at the Forum in Tallinn where more than 500 engaged people took part and many more were on a waiting list. It is a demanding – but very fine – objective to have the most democratic strategy in the EU. It requires that we integrate all stakeholders and that we avoid that regional development becomes too dominated by exclusive EU decision-making procedures and instruments in Brussels. People on the ground in the region, who are not formal part of the new institutions, need to be involved. It is a golden opportunity of the macro-regions in Europe to overcome the usual distances between the EU and its citizens.
One weak point in Tallinn was that the private sector was not present. It is a major challenge for the future to attract the interest of business. After all, a major driver for regional integration is the possibility to create greater trade flows, improved competitiveness and economic growth. We need the private sector to help identify the opportunities and the obstacles.
We also need to have open and general discussions allowing the NGOs, academia and the business sector to voice their views and criticism and fewer civil servants on the scene. Indeed, we have to evaluate the EU strategy in order to improve cooperation and create real changes for the citizens and the business sector on the ground, but we also need inspiring discussions on the future development of the strategy. This is after all what keeps good people going.
It is not easy to satisfy all stakeholders. Baltic Development Forum will have the chance to organize the event with the Commission and the Polish EU-Presidency in October 2011 and hopefully we can introduce some changes in line with President Ilves’ statement.
Hans Brask, Director
Baltic Development Forum